The first of May in Germany or "May Day" is an ancient festival which is celebrated to welcome the spring weather and to drive away evil spirits. It is also a day which celebrates workers rights (similar to Ireland) and is called "Tag der Arbeit" auf Deutsch! Have you heard of Walpurgisnacht, Maibaum or worker's rights marches in Berlin-Kreuzberg? Read on to find out more!
May 1 is a public holiday in all German states and therefore schools, post offices, banks and most businesses are closed. Nearly all shops are closed, although they may be open in tourist areas. However, bakeries, petrol stations and shops at railway stations, airports and along highways are often open. Public transport services may run a normal, reduced or no service depending on where one lives or wants to travel. Traffic may be disrupted in town centers where large parades are held.
Traditionally, people believed that witches held Walpurgis or Witches Night (Walpurgisnacht, Hexennacht) celebrations on the summit of the Blocksberg, a mountain in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, on the night between April 30 and May 1. People believed that it was dangerous to be outside on this night so they lit fires and danced wildly to deter the witches from coming too close to them or their homes. These traditions lead to the custom of lighting fires and erecting Maypoles still seen today.
You might be wondering, what is a Maibaum? In the state of Bavaria, May 1st is an especially important day. It has been the custom for centuries to cut a tall and straight tree, a day or two before May 1, place it in the middle of the village and decorate it with a wreath of spring flowers and colorful ribbons. One of the traditions associated with the "Maibaum" or Maypole is to attempt to steal the Maypole of a neighboring village the night before, and to hold it for ransom, the payment usually a couple kegs of beer. At the same time villagers make sure that their Maypole wasn't stolen by their neighbors.
Some people organize or attend marches or rallies to campaign for or to celebrate worker's rights in Germany, especially in Berlin. These events may be tied with campaigns in other European countries. On May 1, 1987, a labour rally was held where severe rioting and clashes with the police led to injuries and arrests and extensive property damage in Berlin-Kreuzberg. May Day in Kreuzberg nowadays is a much tamer affair, but is still the largest march which celebrates worker's rights in Germany.
Other people spend some time outdoors enjoying the spring weather on May Day.
Although this is unlikely to happen this year due to the coronavirus restrictions, I am sure the people of Germany will find their own unique way to celebrate May Day or "Tag der Arbeit" at home, and the ancient tradition will adapt to a new era of celebrations.
This "Tag der Arbeit" treat yourself to an online German group course with GermanMind. Learn German in our virtual classroom with native German teachers and start your online German language journey with GermanMind today!
Wir wünschen Euch einen schönen Mai!